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Start-up dances with Web services

Flamenco Networks hopes its software will tap into the growing need among large corporations for Web services management and security.

Looking to take a lead in an emerging software market, start-up Flamenco Networks on Monday released a product to secure and manage Web services applications.

Flamenco's namesake software is used to deploy Web services between corporations. It includes tools to secure communications, monitor the performance of applications and to automate the process of offering Web services to many business partners at once. The company is looking to complement existing security firewalls and network management tools to block potentially malicious Web services messages and improve administration of Web services networks.

Flamenco offers its product in a version for enterprises, which starts at about $100,000, and one for telecommunications service providers, which costs about $1 million.

The Atlanta company joins a number of other start-ups, including AmberPoint, Westbridge Technology and Confluent Software, that are filling a growing need to better manage Web services.

"The existing platform vendors make it easy to create Web services, but you don't get any business benefits until people connect to them," said John Hanger, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Flamenco. "Everyone would agree that there is a new category and opportunity for smaller players, which is kind of rare these days."

Flamenco's software uses a distributed architecture, in which software applications called proxies are set up on servers. The proxies provide regular updates, or "heartbeats" in Flamenco's parlance, which include data on the performance and content of messages. The software works with messages that adhere to the Web services standard known as Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).

The company's software can feed monitoring data into existing systems management products, such as Hewlett-Packard's OpenView and Computer Associates' Unicenter, Hanger said. The ability to peer into the contents of SOAP messages also provides better security than existing firewalls, he said. The product supports the most recent Web services security standard called WS-Security.

The release of the Flamenco product marks a milestone for the venture-backed company. The company began operation in August 2001 with a service that provided the same management and security capabilities of its product.

By offering a hosted service, rather than a licensable product, Flamenco was able to get to market faster and learn more about the difficulties of inter-company Web services communications, Hanger said. The company will continue to offer a managed service based on its software.

The company has secured $14.5 million in two rounds of funding, which will keep it operational until at least 2004, Hanger said.